The fight for public school innovation and school choice has officially boiled over. As enrollment rapidly grew at Ohio’s over 300 charter schools, large progressive school options like the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) became the target of well-funded and slanderous attacks from those who fear and feel threatened by schools that are breaking away from the traditional model. Sadly, their fear is not rooted in the well-being of students and teachers. It is about one thing and one thing only... Money.

A quick perusal of followthemoney.org exposes how just one of several of Ohio's most powerful special interest groups have leveraged their unconstitutional compulsory-funding model to corrupt not only politicians but also state and local school boards, the bench, and countless others posing as education thought leaders, think tanks, and journalists with powerful voices and platforms in the media.

In hundreds of articles and thousands of social media comments, you’ll discover the unfortunate results of a well-executed propaganda campaign. You'll read outrageous comments from otherwise informed and good Ohio neighbors that ECOT supposedly stole millions of taxpayer dollars by "inflating attendance" and how charter schools “siphon” money away from traditional school districts by drawing students and funding away from brick-and-mortar institutions. Unfortunately, both of those claims hold zero truth.

Unlike Columbus Public Schools, ECOT never falsified records or inflated attendance. The truth is quite the opposite. ECOT staff worked tirelessly within the law to improve the attendance and re-engage those students that the traditional system left behind. Money wasn't "siphoned" from traditional districts. State education dollars followed students to their school of choice as the law requires. Even worse, the whole siphoning narrative is merely a cover crafted and peddled by the teacher's unions for districts who are financially upside-down and over their state funding caps. They use this false narrative combined with several others as a way to escape blame and point the finger away from a broken state funding model and their own fiscal incompetence and recklessness. 

And in their most absurd display, these old school agenda-pushers incessantly point out how many ECOT students failed to finish high school within four years compared to the national on-time graduation rate. This is a stale, Leave It To Beaver-era and simple-minded measure of evaluating public school success. This antiquated calculation fails to utilize simple regression analysis allowing us to consider a number of critical and modern-day variables that affect graduation rates. Any data scientist worth their salt would immediately dismiss this measure and more importantly, how it’s being translated by the anti-school-choice gang.

ECOT Helped 2300+ Graduate in 2016

What the anti-choicers won't tell you is that the vast majority of ECOT students didn’t enroll there until high school. They also won't report that 65% of ECOT high schoolers were ALREADY at least a year behind before they even enrolled. This poses a number of problems with the on-time graduation rate measure.

ECOT accepted students who had fallen behind in other schools, and helped over 22,000 of them achieve their diplomas when other schools could not or chose not to. Even if graduation happens a little late by traditional definitions, the fact that these students pursued alternatives to finish school at all should be applauded. ECOT welcomed them (along with the default penalty for their on-time graduation rate statistic) while the traditional schools that failed these students received a false positive bump on the same stat for forsaking them—imagine that. ECOT took the flack for accepting left-behind students, even though other schools were responsible for letting these students fall behind in the first place.

This is just one of many reasons why the on-time graduation rate is hollow for comparison’s sake. It’s critical for readers to know the facts behind these statistics, because the greatest achievements of online charter schools like ECOT and its students were totally dismissed in this biased reporting. Apparently, these kids just didn’t count unless they graduated within four years, and online schools just weren't successful unless they were able to somehow undo the academic delays and difficulties that drove students out of public schools in the first place. It's insulting, it’s intentional, and it's enough already.

Instead of hurling rates and statistics without bothering to look behind the curtain, those claiming to care about students and their Ohio public schools should have been asking real questions like:

  • Why did so many students enroll in ECOT?
  • Why did students fall so far behind before they turned to ECOT?
  • In supporting options like ECOT, what is the true cost or savings to the taxpayer?
  • And who cares, anyway?

Let’s begin to answer these questions.

THE CHOICES OHIOANS ARE MAKING

Ohioans chose ECOT over other school options for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common—and perhaps one of the most relevant to the questions above—is bullying. Bullying is a wildly out-of-control epidemic in our public education system, and nearly half of all ECOT students were victims of bullying. (In fact, bullying might be the reason why many students were falling behind before they arrived at ECOT, as we’ll discuss below). Despite the best efforts at prevention, the problem continues to escalate; sometimes with the most tragic of human consequences like all of us witnessed and some experienced first-hand in the Parkland, FL school shooting incident. But another untold story of bullying is that it takes a toll on more than just the victims.

 49% of ECOT Students Affected By Violence or Bullying at their Previous School

49% of ECOT Students Affected By Violence or Bullying at their Previous School

THE TRUE COSTS OF BULLYING

We’ve all seen how bullying can be emotionally, socially and even physically damaging to victims. But bullying is also associated with monetary costs that impact schools, health care systems, and society as a whole, according to a study conducted by the High Mark Foundation.

Cost to schools:

School bullying correlates with increased suspensions, expulsions, alternative placements and drop-outs. Other students report skipping school or going home “sick” to avoid bullies. These disciplinary actions and avoidance measures combine to cause lower average daily attendance rates (ADA), which means less funding for schools, according to the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

For example, in a school with 1,000 students, if 60 students are absent once a month, it means 540 days of school missed. At the national average ADA rate of $40 per day, the resulting loss is $21,600 per year. Add to that the administrative costs of suspensions and expulsions, which NASSP estimates at $170 per incident. Plus, there’s a loss of ADA funds for each day that suspended or expelled students are out of school. Each three-day suspension costs an additional $120, totaling $17,400 in suspension costs for an average school year. Expulsions may cost $75,400 annually.

Even if bullied students stay in school, their grades may pay the price. A study reported in the Journal of Early Adolescence linked bullying with low achievement in school, accounting for grades dropping by as much as a letter grade and a half. Another study presented at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association suggested that the prevalence of bullying doesn’t just affect individuals; it impacts schoolwide performance on standardized achievement tests, lowering overall scores by 3-6 percent. If scores drop too low, or if too few students pass, schools may lose their state accreditation as another indirect cost of bullying.

Bullying might be one of the reasons why many students fell so far behind before they even enrolled in ECOT. Yet, ECOT was still the recipient of attacks from the resulting on-time graduation statistics.

Cost to health care:

The same study from High Mark says more than 30% of students who are bullied suffer from mental health disorders, at a cost of $3,567 per student over 18 months. Nearly half of bullied students deal with alcohol abuse at some point, at a cost of $2,150 per student. Even minor ailments like abdominal pain and headaches in more than 16% of bullied students can cost from $600 to nearly $1,500 per student.

At these rates, even if only 10% of bullied students seek treatment for mental health disorders, the associated health care costs would exceed $1 billion.

Cost to society:

Research from High Mark also showed that students who experience bullying are more likely to later be involved with the justice system and depend on public assistance. Every year, this drains up to $951,327 of resources from justice and social service systems. The long-term impact of these costs can be staggering, especially if you consider costs over a 25-year span, totaling $23,783,179.  

Clearly, bullying cuts much deeper than a teenager’s self-esteem. The problem is not isolated to individual students who are affected. The widespread impact of bullying can cost schools tens of thousands, if not millions, while contributing billions to health care costs and, over time, causing a financial burden on societies that have to deal with the aftereffects.

Looking at that big picture of the crushing long-term impact of bullying, do you really expect students who have been bullied to simply shrug off this burden and graduate in four years? Do you still think it makes more sense to look at on-time graduation rates than to consider the potential savings of breaking the bullying cycle by helping these students stay in school and graduate, even if it may take a little longer than usual?   

 Measuring What Really Matters

Measuring What Really Matters

WHO CARES?

Besides teachers, students and their parents, who cares about the true costs of bullying? The Ohio Department of Education and Superintendent, Paolo DeMaria have a responsibility to care. Teacher’s unions should care. Ohio legislators should care. And clearly, all taxpayers should care, because we’re ultimately the ones contributing to the drain of ALL public school funding, health care costs, and resources from justice and social service systems that correlate with increased school bullying. 

If you look beyond the numbers at the big picture, though, bullying costs students their futures, even their lives — and it’s difficult to ignore the importance of that. For students like Sydney DeBerry, as teasing escalates into bullying and harassment at school, it’s hard to focus on academics over fear. Bullied students like Sydney battle depression and anxiety, which can contribute to the risk of suicide, especially in minority students.

There was some hope, though, because progressive schools like ECOT cared about the costs of bullying, too, especially when it comes to a student’s potential. ECOT provided a safe, supportive environment for students to engage in online education from the comfort of their own homes. The tools and curriculum were  specifically designed to let students focus on learning instead of the drama and fear of bullying that can overshadow academics in traditional institutions.

This environment gave Sydney the confidence to come out of her shell, discover her own identity, and even express herself on the camera as the first anchor of ECOTtv. ECOT transformed her from the shy bullied kid into a social butterfly. Sydney, who graduated in 2014 and started her own business, is outgoing and charismatic now when she says, “You would have no idea that I was once depressed and suicidal. …I actually got an education—a healthy education—at ECOT. … I thank ECOT for helping me develop into the young woman I am now, because my self-confidence is through the roof.”

ECOT PALS has collected countless stories from students (and parents of students) who were bullied at other schools until they found safety, confidence and opportunity at ECOT. There are literally thousands of examples of students who refused to become victims and bullying statistics that would've cost Ohioans millions of dollars.

Sadly and despite these undeniable truths, the Ohio Department of Education and the State Board of Education escalated their unlawful defunding of ECOT students, refused compromise and cash-strangled the school out of business in the middle of the 2017-18 school year displacing over 13,000 students, teachers and staff. When you stop to consider the demographics of this student/teacher body and that close to 6000 of these kids have been subjected to bullying and violence prior to enrolling at ECOT, the ODE, BOE, and the special interest's actions that resulted in the mid-year closure of this school amount to nothing less than despicable attacks on children and some of the most dedicated educators in our state. All parents, students, teachers and every last Ohio taxpayer should be outraged.

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I’d argue that the real bullies in this situation are the anti-school-choice agenda-pushers who are still touting ineffective measurements and false narratives to make a case against and ultimately close online charter schools like ECOT. Their bias only paints a partial picture of the complicated factors that determine a student’s path toward graduation, and disregards obstacles like bullying that may cause students to fall behind before they even enrolled in ECOT. These efforts to block school choice are already impacting the lives of our youngest minds, costing Ohio taxpayers millions of dollars and have been for years.

So who are the real bullies here?

 

Original Article Published August 10, 2016 - Updated February 28, 2018



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